>Zombies ZOMG

>Zombies are the new Nazis.

Think about it. Nazis have been the de facto bad guys in popular culture for the last 50 years. They are a perfect enemy; nobody gets offended when you have to kill them. Castle Wolfenstein illustrated this in interactive 3D, and the videogame boom as we know it was born.

I think, however, that we’ve reached a point in our society where the evilness of Nazis has lost a bit of its power. The videogaming generation did not grow up in WW2, and neither did its parents. When you kill Nazis in videogames, you’re not avenging the horrors of the Holocaust anymore, or freeing Europe from the tyrannical grips of a monster; you are killing bad guys in order to make it to the next checkpoint, and Nazis have always been an easy target for game designers because (a) you don’t have to worry about cultural sensitivity issues, and (b) who doesn’t enjoy killing Nazis? It’s just that most WW2 games these days don’t really focus on the why; they focus on the experience of the soldier in the middle of the battle, rather than the reason why the soldier is over there in the first place, and as a result, the enemy Nazi soldier is no longer as capital-E Evil because they all look the same and there’s so damn many of them.

Enter the zombie.

Zombies have been around forever, but I would point to the 2002 film 28 Days Later as the source of the current zombie revival. (My own personal interest in the coming zombie apocalypse was not borne from movies but from Max Brooks, whose Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z made for highly engrossing and informative reading.) Danny Boyle’s film reimagined zombies as less of a slow-moving, brainless dread and more of a HOLY SHIT IT’S COMING RIGHT AT ME AAAAAAAAAA horrorshow, and it seems to have struck quite a nerve; now there’s zombie films and games all over the place. In fact, one need look no further than a bonus mode in Call of Duty: World At War to see the ultimate crossover – zombie Nazis.

I bring this up because I spent a highly entertaining hour yesterday with 2 close friends killing hundreds upon hundreds of zombies in Left 4 Dead, and it occured to me in the crazy dreams that ensued later that night that a zombie horde is, in 2008, a far more frightening prospect than a Nazi ambush. And it’s also a much more fertile idea for game developers. Nazis can only exist in Europe in the 1940s; zombies can exist anywhere, at any time, and they don’t need guns to kill you. They have no political agenda or ideology, they have no apologists, and they never run out of numbers. They can be fast or slow; they can be subhuman and superhuman. ALSO: they can be hilarious (Shaun of the Dead, FIDO).

I’m not saying that Nazis aren’t evil; of course they’re evil. I’m Jewish, fercrissakes, I’m not suggesting any such thing. I’m simply positing that there will eventually be more zombies than Nazis, and we should all prepare accordingly.

>Good Times All Around

>Last night was epic.

Last night was the sort of night that makes me seriously reconsider my pick for GOTY. As said previously, I’m refraining from doing the big GOTY post until after Prince of Persia arrives – I’m a huge fan of the series, and with all the positive reviews it’s been getting, it could very well have an impact.* But as I’ve also said previously, I entered the 2008 stretch run still feeling confident in my GOTY choice.

I’m having some serious questions now.

Last night was a night spent with Rock Band 2 and Left 4 Dead.

Let me start with Rock Band 2. My wife and I have a band together: “Lilo and Two Poots”, named after our two dogs and their farts. In this band, I play drums (on hard) and she plays guitar (on easy). We’d been hitting a wall in our tour progression, though – Medium is too hard for her on guitar, and there were a bunch of competitions that had Medium difficulty as the lowest available option. And so, as she was out of the house, I took it upon myself to pick up the guitar and plow through the stuff she couldn’t do.

And, as a result, I ended up beating the game (I think). There was a 5-song set that we needed in order to open up some new venues, and then there was an 8-song set in Shanghai that would get us on the cover of Rolling Stone. After the RS show, I opened up every other venue in the world, and so obviously there’s still a tremendous amount left to do, but the credits rolled anyway. Having only really played RB2 on the drums, it took me a little while to get used to playing guitar again, but I quickly got the hang of it, and I had a friggin’ blast. There’s so many great songs in that game, and all of the guitar parts are sensible. My biggest problem with Guitar Hero 3 was that the difficulty level often had nothing to do with the actual music that was being played; playing a song on Medium was often times harder than actually playing the actual song on an actual guitar. RB2 does not make that mistake at all – I did my guitar parts on both Hard and Expert last night and the difficulty was absolutely fair; if I screwed up, I knew it was my fault, and if I was able to get 4 or 5 stars at the end, I felt like I’d earned it.

And in the middle of this RB2 insanity, I played some Left 4 Dead with some good friends. We managed to get through an entire story (I can’t remember what it’s called off the top of my head, but it’s the one that ends with the last stand at the boathouse). L4D might not be the most complete game package out there right now; it really just does one specific thing, though, and it does it exceedingly well. We were constantly keeping tabs on each other, racing in to fend off a Hunter on a downed teammate, calling out Boomers, making sure we all had our flashlights turned off if we heard a Witch, setting up gas can traps for oncoming horde assaults… and all the while, the excellent AI-controlled 4th member of our party was watching our 6, healing us when necessary, and never, ever getting in the way. The game is remarkable in its pacing, but also in terms of communication; the three of us were constantly talking to each other, but then (also) our in-game characters would chime in with situationally-appropriate comments which often cracked us up. Not to mention, we all scored a number of Achievements as we progressed, most of which were pretty cool and not really things we were consciously aiming for.

This is a long way of saying that RB2 and L4D are now firmly entrenched in my top 5 of 2008, which is getting more and more crowded with every passing day.

*According to Amazon, I won’t be getting my grubby little mitts on PoP until Friday, the 5th.